Tokyo 2020 Day 7: Aidan Walsh guaranteed boxing medal, while Irish mixed relay team reaches final

McIlroy and Lowry make big moves in the golf; Ireland lose to India in hockey

Phil Healy, Sophie Becker, Christopher O’Donnell and Cillin Greene discover they have qualified for the final of the mixed 4x400m relay at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

Phil Healy, Sophie Becker, Christopher O’Donnell and Cillin Greene discover they have qualified for the final of the mixed 4x400m relay at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

 
  • Boxing: Aidan Walsh guaranteed at least bronze after welterweight win; Kellie Harrington eases into quarter-finals of women’s lightweight
  • Golf: Rory McIlroy (66) and Shane Lowry (65) both make big moves to get to seven under (click here to read full report)
  • Equestrian: In dressage, Sam Watson and Tullabeg Flamenco score 34.3; Austin O’Connor and Colorado Blue score 38.00
  • Athletics: Thomas Barr clocks 49.02 to reach 400m hurdles semi-finals; Nadia Power, Louise Shanahan and Síofra Cleirigh Buttner miss out on 800m semi-finals; Ireland’s mixed 4x400m relay team qualify for Saturday’s final
  • Sailing: Annalise Murphy misses out on medal race after finishing 14th overall after Race 9 and 10 of women’s laser radial; Robert Dickson and Seán Waddilove 14th after Races 7, 8 and 9 of 49er
  • Hockey: Ireland lose 1-0 to India
  • Swimming: Danielle Hill finishes sixth in her 50m freestyle heat, missing out on the semi-final; Daniel Wiffen wins 1,500m heat but misses out on final

Boxing

A patient and composed Aidan Walsh guaranteed Ireland their first boxing medal of the Tokyo Olympic Games with a 4-1 win over Mauritian Merven Clair in the Kokugikan Arena.

It brings to three the number of medals Ireland have won in the first week of competition – two in rowing and now the medal won by the Belfast welterweight, who won his quarter-final largely in the first two rounds of the bout.

The 24-year-old, boxing in his first Olympics, raced to a smart start and for the first three minutes was by far the better boxer. The judges thought so too with all five awarding the Monkstown BC fighter the first round 10-9.

Ireland’s Aidan Walsh reacts after defeating Merven Clair of Mauritius to reach the semi-finals in the men’s welterweight division at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Photo: Frank Franklin II/AP Photo
Ireland’s Aidan Walsh reacts after defeating Merven Clair of Mauritius to reach the semi-finals in the men’s welterweight division at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Photo: Frank Franklin II/AP Photo

Walsh kept that tempo into the second round, and although southpaw Clair came more into the bout with scoring shots, it was the Irishman who impressed most of the judges. It was a narrow second round, but three of the five judges saw it in favour of Walsh, giving him the critical 2-0 lead he was looking for.

It was then desperation mode for the Mauritian, but it was Walsh who stepped up in the final stanza, with just one judge giving Clair the round. Walsh took the fight 29-28, 28-29, 30-27, 30-27, 30-27 and moves on to the semi-final where he meets Britain’s Pat McCormack for the prize of an Olympic final.

“It’s incredible, it’s amazing, it’s something that I dreamed of since I was no age,” said Walsh.

“The same as Paddy Barnes, Michael Conlan, Hugh Russell, I was talking to Hugh Russell before I came out here, and it’s amazing now that I’m in the same situation that he was in. Obviously I want to go further. It’s really, really good.”

Walsh follows a long, successful tradition by becoming the ninth Belfast boxer to win a medal at the Olympic Games. “I’m getting shivers here just thinking about it.”

The Irishman was also spoken to in the last round by the referee. But he stuck to the style that has proven so effective.

“He told me to fight. I’ve been getting that my whole life so I have, people saying ‘fight, fight, fight, hurry up and move’,” said Walsh.

“I’ve always had that style of moving. I’m just now implementing more stuff while I’m moving that the coaches are showing me, and I’m learning more and more styles and techniques and tactics while on the move whereas before I used to just move and not really do as much.

“Now I’m growing as a fighter, I’m not just going on the move, I’m going backwards and going forwards and it’s great.”

Earlier, Kellie Harrington came through her first fight against Italian southpaw Rebecca Nicoli. The Dublin World Champion from 2018 cleverly negotiated her way through a tricky three rounds against the dedicated counter puncher.

Kellie Harrington in action against Italy’s Rebecca Nicoli. Photo: Buda Mendes/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
Kellie Harrington in action against Italy’s Rebecca Nicoli. Photo: Buda Mendes/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

In a cagey opening round Harrington kept her distance, scoring with the jab and the occasional combination against an opponent who rarely made an offensive move, preferring to try and score off Harrington’s attacks.

But it was the Irish lightweight who landed the cleaner scoring blows with all five judges giving her the first round. The same choreography of sizing each other up continued into the second round, but Harrington again fought with patience and accuracy as the five judges favoured her for a 2-0 lead.

At that stage the Italian needed a stoppage in the third round. But the way Harrington was boxing that was not a likelihood. While the Chinese judge went with Nicoli in the third round, the other four judges saw Harrington as the unanimous winner.

“I feel good. I feel good to get started,” said Harrington. “We arrived out here the 30th June and now it is the 30th July so we are a month out here.

“So it was nice to get going today and get going in a good way. Happy days. I was just getting anxious [to get started]. It’s a long wait, it’s sticky, its warm, walking around the village.

“I didn’t really walk around too much to be honest. You are not really seeing a whole lot you are seeing our apartment and the food hall. I am living in the food hall and for a boxer to be able to say they are living in the food hall is something else. This is a great journey, but this is not the destination.

The Irish top seed now meets Algeria’s Imane Khelifi on Tuesday August 3rd in a quarter-final medal fight.

Athletics

After waiting an extra year to actually write this, athletics got under way at the 2020 Olympics, and Thomas Barr found himself straight in the thick of it at the empty Olympic Stadium.

With the 400 metres hurdles likely to be among the most hotly contested events of the lot in here over the next nine days, Barr had to produce something assured and confident in his heat, which is exactly what he did – nailing second place behind recent world record breaker Karsten Warholm of Norway.

Norway’s Karsten Warholm leads Thomas Barr. Photo: Bryan Keane/Inpho
Norway’s Karsten Warholm leads Thomas Barr. Photo: Bryan Keane/Inpho

That got Barr into Sunday’s semi-final, where he’s again drawn against Warholm, plus the top American Benjamin Rai: only the top two, and two fastest losers, will progress to the final.

“Good, yes good,” Barr said, the Waterford athlete making the Rio final in 2016, finishing fourth. “In my head, the aim was second place, that’s where I was aiming for, knew I could kind of get to.

“I could have done with a quicker time, at the same time I didn’t need it. I felt like I went out very relaxed, first 200, 250m. So relaxed that I ended up with a lot of energy coming around the top bend, and very close to hurdle seven and eight, I had to check them a little bit. But I knew by hurdle eight, I could just see the German on my inside, knew I could catch him.”

Warholm, who ran 46.70 seconds a few weeks ago, was on his outside, and won in 48.65, Barr second in 49.03. That ranked him 11th fastest of the semi-final qualifiers and Barr knows a new lifetime best may be needed to make the final.

“Coming down the home straight, I had loads left, I was like ‘do I stick in this position or go for second?’, and I like go for second, get myself a good lane, do what I need to do. Ran 49-dead pretty much, so happy with the race.

“I don’t feel too tired, the legs feel good, and I’ve a whole day off tomorrow to get ready again. Definitely, I felt very comfortable, very relaxed, especially down the backstraight. I was just working off Warholm really; he said he was going to go out fairly easy, and his easy is probably my quick. So I’d just hold onto him as best I can. He was almost trying to discuss tactics with me in the warm-up track, saying how would I go out, and I said ‘I’ll just hold on to you.’”

In the first ever running of the mixed 4x400m relay at the Olympics, the Irish team of Sophie Becker, Phil Healy, Cillian Greene and Christopher O’Donnell reached the final with a national record time of 3:12.88.

Greene got Ireland off to a great start with a strong first leg before passing over to Healy who briefly powered into the lead. Her handover to Becker for the third leg was seamless and left Ireland in good position but a slightly faulty handover to O’Donnell for the final leg threatened to hold Ireland back.

Ireland’s Sophie Becker passes the baton to Christopher O’Donnell during the mixed 4x400m relay. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Ireland’s Sophie Becker passes the baton to Christopher O’Donnell during the mixed 4x400m relay. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

However, the North Sligo man powered through the final leg, eating up the ground to make it from fifth up to fourth. With the top three automatically qualifying for the final, along with the two fastest losers from both heats, it looked like Ireland were set for a nervous wait.

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But then the news filtered through that the US team - who had won Ireland’s heat - had been disqualified, bumping Ireland up to third and confirming a place in Saturday’s final (1.35pm). That was then followed by the news that the Dominican Republic – who had also finished ahead of Ireland – had been disqualified as well, giving the Irish team second place in their heat.

Later both teams were reinstated following an appeal, but in the end it turned out that Ireland’s time was good enough to qualify even without the disqualifications.

“Yeah, we had it all played out, that they Americans and the Dominicans had a very strong team, they could be in the lead, but what a leg by Cillin, he totally stood up, his first relay,” said Healy afterwards.

“He totally took over and showed them his class, gave me the baton first. Maybe I should have pushed a bit more at 200m. But an Olympic final is unbelievable, four seconds off the national record, surreal at this stage.

“We’ve job one done. Anything can happen in a relay so we just have to go out there and execute our race tomorrow and there’s a blank canvas.

“It’s massive for us, for an Irish relay to be here as well. We took so much from the support we were given, there was three other members on the Irish team that qualified this team that played a massive part at World Relays.

“I think having no spectators was a bonus in ways, we just knew what we had to do. We’re in an Olympic final. It’s unbelievable, it’s going to be at a decent Irish time as well so it’ll be great to have the followers at home again.”

Sophie Becker added after running the second leg: “My head was just saying ‘maintain our position’ and I kept going strong and I passed it over the Chris and he ran a belter of a leg.”

Which he did. “Yeah a few elbows, but the three guys in front of me did the job, I just had to bring it home, and I like the challenge of the last leg,” O’Donnell said. “The three guys set me up, and I’m just happy to bring it home. Our coach Drew Harrison said if we all performed out if our skin we’d run 3:14, well we ran 3:12, so he might be getting sacked in the morning.

“There might be no one in the stands but we know there’s a full stadium at home watching us and they’ve been absolutely amazing, we know they’ll be back tomorrow running the four legs with us again.”

Greene, like the other three competing in his first Olympics, added: “Yeah my first ever leg of a relay, I just tried to execute the same race plan, go out quite conservative, but put ourselves in a position where if I gave the baton to Phil we could use are momentum, and thankfully that’s exactly what happened, and I’m absolutely delighted.”

No such joy earlier in the morning session for the three Irish women who had qualified for Tokyo in the 800 metres. Nadia Power, Louise Shanahan and Síofra Cléirigh Büttner were eliminated over three successive heats in the steamy-but-not-quite-yet-sweltering conditions. In truth none of the trio came close to qualifying for the semi-finals.

Power was first up in Heat 2, finishing seventh of the eight starters, clocking 2:03.74, over two seconds outside her best. The 2019 world champion from Uganda, Halimah Nakaayi, could only manage fourth, qualifying as a fastest loser.

“I’m really confident I was in the right mental space coming up here,” said Power. “I wasn’t freaked out by the occasion, I felt incredibly ready, relaxed, I don’t even have a really good excuse, it just wasn’t my day today.”

Shanahan went in Heat 3 with only the first three in each heat, plus the next six fastest, going into Sunday’s semi-finals. Still tightly packed down the backstretch, Shanahan started losing touch around the final bend, and as hard and determined as she chased it was in vain and brought up the rear in eighth place in 2:03.57.

“I can’t believe I’m here, I’m absolutely delighted. I would have liked to make it through, I came here to compete, this wasn’t a holiday, but yeah, I can now call myself an Olympian and if that’s the worst thing that happens today that’s a pretty good day,” said Shanahan. That heat was won by rising American star Athing Mu, who just turned 19, running a smooth 2:01.10, clearly with plenty more in the tank.

Then came Büttner in Heat 4 which was a more tactical affair with the Dublin runner having to check herself a few times around the bell as she looked for a best position. She ended up seventh too, running 2:04.62, well down on her best of 2:01.67. Victory there went to another American Raevyn Rogers who ran 2:01.42

“We always knew it’d be tactical, it’s rounds, it’s heats, it’s a major championship,” she said. “I’m disappointed I couldn’t do more but the fight to get here was draining in itself. The three of us had to go through a lot to get here and safely make it on to the line, I’m proud of that. It’s been a long time coming and it’s great to be a part of this, even during Covid.”

Golf

Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry both made big moves towards the medal positions in the men’s golf tournament on Friday.

McIlroy carded a round of 66 to get to seven under par and into a tie for fourth, while Lowry joined him at that mark with a 65 with a number of players still to finish after another weather delay.

Rory McIlroy of Ireland chips on the second hole. Photo: Michael Reynolds/EPA
Rory McIlroy of Ireland chips on the second hole. Photo: Michael Reynolds/EPA

McIlroy carded a round of 66 to get to seven under par and into a tie for fourth, while Lowry joined him at that mark with a 65 to sit four shots behind Xander Schauffele who birdied each of his last three holes to get to 11 under.

McIlroy got off to a steady start with pars through the first five but then found his range with a birdie at the sixth before adding another at the Par 3 seventh and an eagle at the Par 5 eighth. The four-time Major winner was racing his way up the leaderboard and, while a bogey at the 11th slowed him down, he picked up further birdies at the 12th, 14th and 17th to get to eight under par. A disappointing bogey at the 18th put perhaps a slight blot on the round, but it was a good day’s work for McIlroy who has put himself right in the mix for a medal.

Indeed, Ireland could well have two real medal chances come Sunday after Lowry also flew through his first eight holes in four under par with birdies at the second, sixth, seventh and eighth. His only bogey of the round came at the ninth, but he rolled in further birdies at the 13th, 14th and 16th to move into that tie for fourth. And it could have been even better for the Offalyman when he knocked his approach to the 17th in to a few feet but unfortunately couldn’t convert the putt for birdie.

Hockey

Ireland 0 India 1

Ireland were beaten 1-0 by India in a rain-delayed match in the Oi Stadium in Tokyo and now must rely on a performance against Britain in their final match of Pool A to secure a quarter-final place in the Olympics Games.

Ireland defended heroically but in the end looked like a tired team against the hard running Indians, who dominated both possession and territory throughout the match. The extent of that domination was 10 penalty corners in the first half and seven in the second half, none of which they were able to convert into goals.

Ireland’s Deirdre Duke reacts as the Indian goal is scored. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Ireland’s Deirdre Duke reacts as the Indian goal is scored. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

It was a disappointing result for Ireland who had targeted the match for one of the two they needed to win to get fourth place in the pool and claim a spot among the last eight teams.

Britain, who Ireland play on Saturday in the final pool game, are the Olympic Champions from Rio, whereas India meet South Africa, who have not yet won any of their four matches and have conceded 15 goals.

From the off it was a defensive performance from Ireland, who nervously started against a high-pressing Indian side. That paid off for India early with their first penalty corner coming after just eight minutes, which Sarah Torrans successfully blocked. That was to be a theme of the day, defending corners.

India earned five corners in the first quarter and five more in the second. That video analysis session is expected to be X-rated, although the Irish defending and goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran particularly stood up under the constant Indian threat.

The match didn’t really change complexion in the second half as the Indians stayed in full attack mode, Ireland’s slim chances coming from occasional breakaway runs.

While Anna O’Flanagan hit a reverse slap which forced a hand save from goalkeeper Savita in the final quarter, it was an increasingly frustrated India who were doing most of the attacking and circle penetrations.

Finally three minutes from the end, the tiring Irish defence was again stretched. A hard drill from the crown of the circle to the far post found the stick of Navneet Kaur, who nicked it towards the Irish goal. This time there was little the goalkeeper McFerran could do with India finishing the game with a 1-0 win and now more likely than Ireland to make it through to the quarter-final.

“It was a tough game. Credit where credit is due,” said Irish captain Katie Mullan. “India played a really good performance. They’d done their homework. They really put it up to us there today. They won a lot of corners. It’s always hard to come away from a game when you conceded a lot of corners like that.

“We’d be disappointed that we got basically to the last three minutes. We’ve another opportunity and we just have to prepare for that. Now everything in our control is how we perform against GB. So we’ll prepare now for that. We’ve played them a lot of times this year, so that will add something to the game.

“It’s been a really good week,” added Mullan. “We’ve been tracking really well until now. We have been performing really well and are just having a great time in the village. It’s been a wonderful experience so far and we don’t want it to end. We’ll just go out tomorrow and play with our hearts on our sleeve and give it our best shot.”

Ireland: A McFerran, S McAuley, H McLoughlin, R Upton, L Tice, C Watkins, K Mullan, A O’Flanagan, S Hawkshaw, D Duke, S Torrans.

Subs: S McCay, H Matthews, L Holden, N Carroll, N Daly.

India: Savita, Navjot Kaur, G Kaur, D G Ekka, Monika, Nisha, V Katariya, Udita, Navneet Kaur, Rani, Neha.

Subs: S Devi, N Pradhan, Lalremsiami, S Pukhrambam, S Tete.

Umpires: A Rostron (RSA), A Neumann (AUS).

Sailing

There was disappointment for Annalise Murphy on Friday as she finished in 30th and 40th place in Races 9 and 10, respectively, in the laser radial to see her finish out in 18th place overall – outside of the top-10 qualifying position needed to advance the medal race.

Ireland’s Annalise Murphy competes in the women’s laser radial. Photo: Olivier Morin/AFP via Getty Images
Ireland’s Annalise Murphy competes in the women’s laser radial. Photo: Olivier Morin/AFP via Getty Images

A strong sail yesterday saw her finish in first and second place in Races 7 and 8 to leave her at 14th overall, so a big push was still needed today to qualify into the top-10 today, but with light winds at Enoshima, it was a tough sail for Murphy.

This was the Dublin sailor’s third Olympics, the highlight of which was a silver medal in Rio five years ago, and she told RTÉ Sport afterwards that she doesn’t see herself going to Paris in 2024.

“I’m looking forward to a normal life,” she said. “I can’t see myself going for another Olympics.

“Aoife (Hopkins) and Eve (McMahon) are both going to be contenders in three years’ time and I want to help them out. I hope I can give them some of my knowledge and maybe they can surpass all of my achievements. That would the dream, that I have left some legacy behind.

“I’m proud of myself for managing to make it to three Olympics. I came here thinking this was my chance to win a gold medal but it wasn’t.

“But I’ve managed to win races at all three Olympics I’ve gone to so that’s pretty good.”

The 49er duo of Robert Dickson and Seán Waddilove, meanwhile, are currently sitting in 14th overall after nine races. The pair finished in ninth, 18th and ninth position in Races 7, 8 and 9 respectively this morning, with the final three races to take place tomorrow.

The pair were well-placed after yesterday’s action but slipped from seventh down to 13th after they were disqualified from Races 5 and 6 for a harness that was 90 grams too heavy.

Equestrian

Sam Watson with Tullabeg Flamenco got the Irish eventing team off to a positive start in dressage, scoring a 34.3. This leaves the pair in 25th position after the first two sessions, with one more to follow tomorrow morning.

Austin O’Connor with Colorado Blue is in 29th position out of 36 competitors at the end of the first day after they scored 38.0. Sarah Ennis with Horseware Woodcourt Garrison start their dressage test at 2.32am on Saturday.

Ireland’s Sam Watson riding Flamenco salutes the judges at the end of his performance in the equestrian eventing individual dressage. Photo: Behrouz Mehri/AFP via Getty Images
Ireland’s Sam Watson riding Flamenco salutes the judges at the end of his performance in the equestrian eventing individual dressage. Photo: Behrouz Mehri/AFP via Getty Images

With Watson on top, the eye-catching Tullabeg Flamenco was composed and relaxed throughout the entire test.

A small error in the flying changes towards the end of the test cost them a few marks but the pair are looking forward to the next two phases, cross country and show jumping.

“I was pleased with the horse and I think the foundations were there,” said Watson afterwards. “The softness, suppleness, and relaxation were all there. I possibly didn’t give him enough punch and enough X-Factor for what they are looking for at the Olympic Games. It was a little safe and then I made a small mistake, which was on me, I shouldn’t be missing changes at the Olympic Games. I am pretty happy with the horse; I am a little disappointed with the mark and there are a few things that I could have done better.

“I am looking forward to cross country. It is a rider’s course because he has given us a lot of choices. You have got to make decisions on the course and commit to your lines and stay focused and concentrating. I like that. I like to be thinking when I am on a course.”

Austin O’Connor and Colorado Blue taking to the stage.

Swimming

In the pool, Danielle Hill was left disappointed by a time of 25.70 seconds to finish sixth in her women’s 50m freestyle heat, leaving her outside the top-16 to qualify for the semi-finals.

Meanwhile, Daniel Wiffen missed out on the final of the men’s 1,500m despite winning his heat. The Lisburn man came home in 15:07.69 but he was passed out in the next three heats with only the top eight advancing to the final.

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